The following is an opinion editorial by a guest contributor. The opinions within do not nessacarily reflect those of The Pattaya News Co. LTD.
By: Andrew J. Wood
BANGKOK — A senior director of civilian aviation recently said that international flights are not likely to resume in Thailand until late September.
Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand director Chula Sukmanop it was reported in Khaosod English language newspaper, that none of the airlines he met had expressed interest in resuming their international flights by next month, when the order shutting down the country’s airspace is due to expire. He attributed the reluctance to uncertainty over the government’s policies on international travel.
“I believe international flights will resume this September,” Chula said. “All of the airlines could not assess the demand for air travel. They have to wait and see the situation by the end of this month.
The government has to make a final decision before the country’s airspace could be open, but it does not mean an all-out opening for air travellers, since only business people would be allowed to take the flights under the so-called travel bubble proposals,” he added.
The Airports of Thailand (AoT) predicts a total resurgence of 493,800 flights and approximately 66.58 million passengers between October 2019 and September 2020. The assumptions are made based on the resumption of a limited number of domestic flights in May and then a slow ramping up of flight schedules.
At a recent Amcham organised webinar under the banner “Thailand Tourism Forum 2020 – Temperature Check” earlier this week presenter Charles Blocker CEO IC Partners Ltd reported that 22 of 38 Thai airports were open (58%) but with only 50% ‘normal’ flight capacity and 25-30% of seats occupied.
Although flights have resumed (domestic only) the AoT think getting back to normal volume however will take longer. Looking at the long range forecast for recovery AoT announced flights won’t return to ‘normal’ before October 2021.
The president of Airports of Thailand, Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, reported that air travel should be back to pre-Covid19 levels by October 2021, 18 months away. But for the rest of this year, the Thai aviation sector is expecting a significant drop in flights and passenger numbers.
“Recovery of international routes will depend on how quickly a vaccine or antiviral drugs can be made available.
“Total flights and passengers will drop by 44.9% and 53.1% respectively, due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he told the Nation Thailand.
“Thailand’s important destination countries are countries in the Asia-Pacific region which account for over 80% of our travel.”
Government sources say containment of the Covid-19 virus are dependent on varying measures adopted by different countries, some more stringent than others.
It’s predicted that the domestic flight sector will recover first, as recovery of international routes will depend on how quickly a vaccine or antiviral drugs can be made available.
Thailand’s airspace has been closed to international flights since April due to the coronavirus pandemic. Only essential journeys such as repatriation and diplomatic flights were allowed to fly into the country, though most domestic flights have resumed after weeks of waning infections in the country with no new infections being reported for 24 days. Thailand has only had 3,146 reports of Covid-19 cases and only 58 deaths in total compared to a global total of 8.58m cases and 456,384 deaths.
The aviation agency also announced a set of new safety measures during a meeting with airlines and airport operators on Tuesday.
Under the new regulations, air carriers are no longer required to leave empty seats between passengers, but passengers are still needed to wear face masks throughout the journey.
Food and beverages may only be served on flights exceeding two hours and they must be prepared in a sealed container. Airlines are also required to prepare a space in the cabin to separate sick passengers from others.
Domestic flights were previously allowed to charge up almost twice the original fare since they had to leave many seats empty to ensure social distancing. The civil aviation chief expected the fares to be lower, thanks to the recent measures easing restrictions on travelling.
Mr Blocker, the IC Partners’ CEO suggested that it was likely that stringent measures for foreign arrivals might lessen going forward, and the 14-day quarantine may be waived by the government.